Friday, 23 October 2020

Recent Reading: The Jungle and Commoners

 The Jungle by Upton Sinclair - A classic American socialist novel from 1906 that exposed the horrific conditions in the slaughterhouses and meat packing industries of Chicago and the degradation of the immigrant workers employed there. 

The most depressing novel I have ever read by some measure. Sinclair grinds his characters down to the lowest point of misery and squalor for around 350 pages before offering the hope of internatnional socialism right at the end. I certainly learnt a lot about the working-class world of Chicago of the time (the book was scrupulously researched), not only in terms of the terrible industrialised slaughter of animals, but in terms of the grinding up of the poor who who came to the US full of hopes and dreams. 

Thursday, 15 October 2020

Evangelicals, Capitalism, and the Family

 If political economy failed to see modern market relations as the outcome of a specific historical process (through which peasants and artisans lost control of the means of production and became wage laborers), social science equally fails to see that 'interdependence' merely reflects changing modes of class rule: the extension and solidification of capitalist control through the agency of management, bureaucracy, and professionalization. Thus it misrepresents the socialization of reproduction - the expropriation of child rearing by the state and by the health and welfare professionals - as an abstract, impersonal social process variously described as the "decline of the extended family", the "transfer of functions", structural and functional "differentiation".' - Christopher Lasch, Haven in a Heartless World: The Family Besieged, Norton, 1995 (originally 1977), xxii.

What strikes me from this paragraph is the parallel with general attitudes among evangelicals towards the changing nature of the Western family. Like the sociological tradition in general, things like husbands and/or wives in wage labour outside of the home, as well as the expropriation Lasch mentions, will be seen as neutral changes in arrangement - value-free matters of alternative 'culture' that have no real bearing on the church's life or mission. This is even if these matters are thought about or remarked upon at all, of course.

Saturday, 3 October 2020

A Recommendation of Christopher Lasch

Lasch (1932-1994) was an interesting example of a theorist who could draw heavily on the anti-capitalist thought of Karl Marx and the Frankfurt School, yet be socially conservative in his defense of traditional family structures and critique of statist solutions. Indeed, he demonstrated perfectly well that these influences and outlooks are by no means mutually exclusive but need to be brought together if clarity on these matters are to be attained in these confused and confusing times.

His Haven in a Heartless World: The Family Under Siege (1977) is a pioneering exploration of the way in which the removal of work from the home (in contrast to the arrangement represented in the introduction to William Cobbett's Cottage Economy, for example) has severely weakened the family as a place of socialization and nurture for children, leaving them at the mercy of capitalist forces and state-sponsored 'experts' in the forms of mass education and the psychological professions. Readers of this blog will recognise themes of interest to me in this description, and having perused the volume I'd say it's a crucial read in terms of this perspective. Be aware, however, that Lasch spends some time going into the history of American sociological study of the family and also into aspects of Freudian theory: it's not quite clear to me exactly how he applied the latter, which he seems to have seen value in at this point, but being somewhat indifferent to Freud I took those sections with a grain of salt.

The other work I've explored is his opus, The True and Only Heaven: On Progress and Its Critics (1992), a weighty but readable tome that explores a strand of anti-capitalist thought little-emphasised today: that of the small farmer and craftsman, small property-owners who stood against the increasing trend to wage-labour and proletarianisation. I found Lasch's discussions of John Locke, Tom Paine, William Cobbett, and Orestes Brownson particularly interesting in this regard, very much in the vein of E.P. Thompson's seminal The Making of the English Working Class. I'm highly sympathetic towards the sorts of concerns those figures stood for, seeing them as more realistic (in a certain sense) than any machine-driven Marxist utopia. But sadly there seems to be no way back to such a way of life on a mass scale without massive disruption and death, as far as I can see, and so I wonder if it's something the church should endeavour to partially create for itself within society as a limited survival strategy of sorts, although not as a seperatist move.

Lasch himself wasn't a Christian, although he respected and drew upon the work of various Christians. He's worth a look for the reasons I've gone into above. And that's why I would recommend you read him.

Saturday, 12 September 2020

Matrilineal Churches

I found this article, recommended to me by a friend, fascinating. Some readers will know that, while my views on gender roles within the Christian family would be seen as conservative even within the mainstream conservative evangelical UK church, I have some level of unease with the form of life that the 'working man'/housewife model results in in a post-industrial capitalist society, as explored in my most over-self-referred-to post here. The article linked to above does an illuminating job in explaining this unease in a way I couldn't quite put my finger on - why for some time I've felt that, while complementarian churches maintain their male leadership as something of a token shell, what we think of as a 'traditional' household set-up is not quite ideal. While written about the US context, I think it's very relevant for the UK situation as well.

What are the solutions? Since we're not going to return to small farm/artisan societies anytime soon, other than encouraging fathers to make best use of the time they have at home in their crucial role (that I think must be painted in terms of spiritual warfare in order to motivate them), the only thing I can think of is to encourage older male relatives like grandfathers who are around more during the day to take a more active role in spiritual formation and education. Perhaps older male non-relatives could teach in group settings for safety. But like many of my ideas this would require the church in general to see the point in general to think it worth bothering with and there are several other hurdles in thinking that are yet to be cleared in the first place.

[N.B. - 30/9/20 - This sort of analysis should not of course be used to blame or attack women themselves, who are often simply seeking to teach their children as Titus 2 instructs and as Lois and Eunice exemplified in their teaching of Timothy. That which keeps men from exercising their role effectively in this time - or at least severely dissuades them from it - is more systemic and economic in nature, representing forces that, while not incapable of being overcome, present a formidable challenge to any man who wishes to guide and shape his childrens' hearts and minds.]

Thursday, 10 September 2020

Lewis Mumford on the Ante-Nicene Church Fathers

Lewis Mumford (1895-1990) was an American historian, sociologist and philosopher of technology. While initially more optimistic about the possibilities of technological progress, he became more pessimistic in a way similar to Jacques Ellul. I found the interview below fascinating, not least when he mentioned his reading into the early patristic era. It felt like a serendipitous link between two areas of study this blog aims to connect had already been made for me.

'...As a matter of fact, when I began preparing for The Condition of Man, I spent a whole winter reading into the annals of Christianity. I knew, superficially, the history of Rome and of the Christian religion. Now I began reading the early fathers. Augustine and Jerome, who I knew, but also Cyprian and Origen and Tertullian. The great fathers of the Christian Church. And I realized at that moment, and remember society wasn’t as safe as it is today, that they were talking about my society. They were talking about the evils and the corruptions and the sins that were committed every day in our advanced western civilization. And some of their answers, the answers that they gave of withdrawing, of looking inside yourself, of examining your own sins before you attempt to improve anybody else. But these answers, I think, are fundamental answers. They’re recognized, there are certain human obligations that we must fulfill for ourselves before we can help anybody else.

Sunday, 6 September 2020

The Theology of Oscar Wilde

Until recently I only knew of Wilde (1854 - 1900) as a purveyor of one-line witticisms and social comedies, as well as for his imprisonment for 'gross indecency'. But I became interested in his broader thought when I saw he'd written an essay on socialism, in which he outlined a utopian vision in which automated machinery has freed mankind from the drudgery of menial work so everyone can develop themselves to the full as individuals. This stateless, voluntary communism was essentially the same as Marx's ultimate goal. Intrigued, from there I read into Wilde's aestheticism - that life imitates art, that art expresses only itself - and his long prison letter De Profundis, written to his former lover Lord Arthur Douglas. At first a cool, bitter excoriation of Douglas's vanity and self-absorption, the letter takes an interesting turn when Wilde discusses Christ at great length. It would be fair to say that he was fascinated, perhaps obsessed, with Jesus. And even more surprisingly, although there are various elements of his presentation of the Lord that have to be rejected (e.g. Christ as the ultimate individual), I found much of his description of Jesus to be both true and very moving.

Friday, 21 August 2020

A Comment on Complementarianism in the UK Church

'The eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you,” nor again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.”' - 1 Cor 12:21

I rarely ever comment on blog posts these days, but one by a prominent UK conservative evangelical church leader on complementarianism caught my attention and I couldn't help myself. Below is a lightly edited version of my comment with some of the usual links expanding on some of the points. I think my observations might be applicable in other contexts, but that will be up to my readers from those nations to decide.
Something that I've increasingly come to believe is being overlooked in these debates is the changing nature of motherhood and gendered work in our society and its effect on the church's perception of these things. As you say, Paul seems to tie motherhood into his rationale in 1 Tim 2 for a division of teaching roles. And I do think the call for wives to be 'home-workers' in Titus 2 suggests Christian wives should be at home, presumably for the good of any children and other Christian women (as I gather Lloyd-Jones's highly qualified wife moved to in leaving her job as soon as they were married). Thus the male nature of eldership symbolises or buttresses broader patterns of fatherhood/motherhood in the home.

But in an industrialised capitalist society, where the home is no longer the centre of production, where wives too are pressed into wage-labour outside the home, this is hard to achieve. I think a daytime domestic community of younger mothers was still evident in the 90s when I was a child even in less conservative churches, probably due to lingering cultural ideas of motherhood and better economic conditions for the younger middle class, but I'd say that now even conservative churches effectively lack the daytime domestic community Titus 2 implies - although you'd know a lot better than me if that's accurate. If it's to be regained, and gender roles on a Sunday morning not to be something of an empty shell, the church might have to consider quite radical mutual financial aid. But everyone would have to catch a vision and consider it a worthwhile project first. Perhaps a greater need for home education in light of state propaganda might nudge thoughts in that direction, and in the direction of beneficial things for the conservative evangelical church in general.